A news conference is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 9 at Nationals Park, before the Nationals play the Los Angeles Dodgers. The first pick in the 2009 MLB draft, Strasburg pitched just 31⅓ innings after signing a seven-year, $245 million contract in December 2019. And since he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in 2021 — a procedure that included the removal of a rib and two neck muscles — he logged just 4⅔ innings, all in one start that led to more pain and tingling in his shoulder and neck.
The financial implications of Strasburg’s retirement were not immediately known Thursday afternoon. After this season, Strasburg’s contract had an average annual value of $35 million for three more years. The Nationals do not have disability insurance on Strasburg’s contract, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
“For Strasburg and his family, I’m not going to make any comments about what’s going on,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. “What I do know is that he means a lot to me, this organization and the fans. So I’ll just keep it at that.”
“I heard something about it, but I know nothing’s official yet,” said starter Patrick Corbin, Strasburg’s teammate since 2019. “But just to speak of Stephen himself, that was a big reason why I came to this organization — to play with him and Max [Scherzer]. It’s been tough I’m sure for him and his family. The guys in this clubhouse miss him, and we wish nothing but the best for him and what’s to come. But he’s a big reason why I’m here and a big reason why we have a championship ring.”
A three-time all-star, Strasburg leaves the sport with a 113-62 record, a 3.24 ERA and 1,723 strikeouts in 247 regular season starts, each of them with Washington. In the playoffs, when he often shined the brightest, he had a 1.46 ERA in 55⅓ innings, none more critical than the six appearances that pushed the Nationals to a World Series championship in 2019. But because of injuries, he made 30 or more starts just three times in 13 years. Since his rookie season was cut short by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, every high of his career was clouded by the frustrations of frequent health issues. TOS, emerging in his early 30s, proved to be the one he couldn’t overcome.
Before this season, Strasburg made three attempts to ramp up, throwing a handful of bullpen sessions near his home in Northern Virginia. Then in late January, he felt familiar discomfort and told the team he wouldn’t make it to spring training. Outside of a few visits to see the club’s medical staff in April, he hasn’t visited Nationals Park during the season, his locker appearing untouched. Back in the spring, he worked out off-site until even lower-body exercises agitated the entire right side of his body. But since the end of April, he has been shut down from physical activity, waiting and hoping for something to change.
Strasburg, 35, continues to deal with “severe nerve damage,” according to three people with knowledge of his situation. He has struggled with mundane tasks, such as lifting his young daughters or opening a door with his right hand. Last summer, when he tried and failed to return — making three rehab outings before that final start in Miami — Strasburg sometimes couldn’t stand for long without his hand going completely numb. To manage it, he would lie down on his side and press his hand against his chest.
Those close to him quietly worried more about his life beyond pitching again. And Strasburg kept grappling with his baseball mortality.
“Every time I’ve had an injury, I felt like I was going to be the best there is coming back,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post last September. “ … This is the one that’s still definitely a big question mark. I realize the clock is ticking.”
At 20, Strasburg was one of the most surefire prospects in history, a flame-throwing ace out of San Diego State University. In his major league debut at 21, he struck out 14 batters on national television, a game that became a sort of before-and-after moment for Washington. Once Strasburg arrived, it was as if the franchise had too.
At 25, in 2014, he made 34 starts and struck out 242 hitters, the most in the National League that season. In the Nationals’ 2019 World Series run, he tore through the playoff field, including three scoreless innings in relief in the NL wild-card game. When Strasburg was healthy, very few were better. But after the title run, the years of wear and tear on his right side caught up to him. So did his age, a critical factor in an athlete’s chances of fully recovering from TOS surgery.
During the first summer of the coronavirus pandemic, Strasburg experienced pain, tingling and numbness in his hand, leading to season-ending carpal tunnel surgery. In hindsight, he believed it may have been a misguided procedure when he could have instead undergone TOS surgery.
When his expectations lowered in recent months, Strasburg just wanted to pitch in one more game, to jog out to the Nationals Park mound and feel the dirt beneath his cleats. He struggled with the perception that he was collecting millions of dollars while sitting on his couch. But next month, instead of visiting the stadium to play, he will do so to publicly discuss the end of the line. A giant poster of him still looms above the center field concourse. Soon, though, his giant shadow should fade.
Andrew Golden in New York contributed to this report.